Real Life Can Be Stressful

Real life can be stressful. The transition from high school to college can be tricky.

I haven’t posted anything since May 9. Why? Because my brain has been scrambled…that’s why.

If you have never had a child graduate from high school, but you have kids who eventually will graduate, hold onto your hat. What I thought should not be stressful or a big deal of any kind has turned my world upside down.

OK, maybe that’s being extreme. But during the weeks leading up to our daughter’s high school graduation on May 21, there were so many events and activities. I don’t consider myself low energy, but man! They wore me out! Parent meetings, Baccalaureate, Senior Supper, sports awards…and so much more! And those are just the things parents attended…the seniors did all that and more! I know the school was trying to cram lots of “memories” into a few weeks, but I’m not kidding when I say it was overwhelming. Back in 1985, when I graduated from a public high school, we had graduation rehearsal and graduation. I don’t remember any extra things we had to do, and I was cool with that, because honestly…graduating from high school is something we are supposed to do.

Soon after our daughter’s graduation at the end of May, she and I flew down to attend her college orientation. The event itself wasn’t stressful, but it was a lot of information at one time. Y’all know I didn’t even know want to go. I don’t think parents should have to go to orientation. In this case, nothing ever said it was mandatory, but as I talked to other parents leading up to it, I was afraid my daughter would look like an orphan if I didn’t go with her. So I went. But again, I don’t think there should even be sessions for parents. Back in the 1980s, my parents didn’t go. I drove myself there without GPS or a cellphone, and everything was just fine. I think they started doing parent sessions to give the parents something to do. You know, in 2022, we can’t just let our kids do things on their own. {Insert eye roll here.} So that one day I spent in the parent session is one day of my life I will never get back. Nope, I didn’t attend the second day. The second day, I just dropped her off with her roommate for the sessions, and I went back to the hotel for a leisurely cup of coffee…just as it should be.

But things went awry in our household after that. It actually started at orientation. Without getting into too much detail, I will say it has been a tough couple of weeks emotionally. Graduation actually hits these kids harder than we realize. Internally, they know they are feeling something stressful, but they don’t know why! Here’s why: they are leaving their family and friends to go to college soon. Everything they have ever known is about to change, and I don’t care how “ready” your kid is, it’s a scary time for them. I honestly believe it’s why we see so many friendships change in the summer after graduation. We see romances end. And seriously…I have seen my daughter trying to disconnect from me. It’s OK. I knew it would happen. I know she will need to disconnect emotionally for the college transition. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but I know it’s part of the process. She is moving 450 miles away to experience a new life. She won’t be coming back to Charlotte on the regular. It doesn’t make it any less sad, though. But that’s what stress does…we react to it in weird ways…and our daughter has certainly reacted. Wow.

We were fortunate to be able to slip away last week for some mother/daughter time at our favorite hotel in California. No, we didn’t just stay in the hotel the whole time, but frankly, I would have been OK with that. It’s a place of great comfort for me. It’s a place we feel at home. It’s a place we see friends. There is a reason it’s our favorite. We were able to relax, shop, eat great food, and relax some more in a beautiful environment. Did it help? Yes, it did. It helped us feel better, but it also forced us to have a conversation about the pressure we are feeling. She and I had a few heart-to-heart conversations. I told her everything she is feeling is normal. It’s OK to feel stress. It’s OK to feel pressure. It’s even OK to feel the need to disconnect. But it’s also important to try to handle things respectfully and compassionately. She is a sweet girl who is simply experiencing something new. And I’m a mom experiencing something new. As we barrel toward becoming empty-nesters, I’m feeling weird emotions too. I’ll likely sleep with one of her dirty sweatshirts after she leaves, just so I can have her scent nearby.

So, she moves into her dorm in six weeks. Of those six weeks, we will be on vacation again for two of them. I will have gallbladder surgery in July (ugh), so that will be two weeks of nothing. And then, we will move her in. Of course, I won’t be able to carry anything heavy for six weeks after the surgery, so it will be up to my husband to do all the heavy lifting. I’m not sure he knows that yet. We will move her in, and when we drive away, I feel sure I will shed a tear or a thousand. They will be sad tears for me, but they will be happy tears for her, because I know college is going to be a great experience.

And once she gets all moved in and starts classes, there will be more stress. College life is an adjustment, but she will figure it all out.

College is a good way to learn to deal with the stress of life, because real life can be stressful.

Now I’m Getting Nervous

Now I’m getting nervous…

It’s no secret that I have been looking forward to my daughter’s high school graduation. She has been at the same independent school since she was four years old, so she really thinks she is ready for graduation. Plus, she is an only child, so when she graduates and goes off to college, we become empty-nesters. We start a new phase of our lives. It’s a phase we are excited about.

And up until now, I’ve been nothing but excited. I have been looking forward to summer vacations. I have been excited about how much she is going to love college. I have been looking forward to the adventures my husband and I will have…traveling to different places…the possibility of living somewhere else (not right away, of course, because we know our daughter needs to be able to come back home during her freshman year). There’s a lot to look forward to.

But earlier today, I was talking with a friend whose only child, a daughter, is a sophomore in college, and she gave me a warning, “No matter what you think right now, you are going to miss that girl when she goes to college.” And it hit me. She’s right. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her like crazy. We have been together almost every single day of her life. Soon, she will be leaving me behind. I’m happy for her, but now I’m nervous for me. It’s uncharted territory for me.

I wrote recently about how I have one job. I’m a mom. And that has been my one job for eighteen years. But now that’s about to change. I’m not officially being “fired” from that job, but the job description is going to change. She won’t need me daily; frankly, she probably hasn’t needed me daily for a long time. However, once she goes off to college several hundred miles away, I will likely go months without seeing her in person or giving her a hug! She will be fine. I’m worried about me.

God prepares us for this. As they grow up, kids gradually become more independent. Even in elementary school, they start going to friends houses without us. They go to sleepovers with friends. And then, before they can drive, we drop them off at places to meet friends regularly. Then, they learn to drive, and everything changes. As soon as our daughter turned 16, she was off to the races…we hardly saw her anymore, because she had the freedom to move around the city at will. Four months after she got her license, though, COVID hit. Because she couldn’t spend as much time with friends, she did a lot of driving around. She even invited me to go for drives with her. We looked for places to drive around…sometimes just driving around town, and other times driving into South Carolina to see what it looked like when states started to re-open during the pandemic. South Carolina opened way before North Carolina did, and we drove around looking at the lines outside restaurants!

Because teenagers are social creatures, we were not particularly strict about the COVID restrictions. She needed to see her friends. She needed to spend time socializing, so we let her. I joked that she spent the summer of 2020 trying to catch COVID but never caught it. I felt sure she would bring it home to me and my husband during those first few crucial months, but we never got it. Actually, I did have it in late January of this year, but I didn’t get it from my daughter.

Pandemic restrictions lifted, and school eventually went back to “normal.” She has been going to school dances and sporting events. Her social life has resumed in full force. She is hardly ever home, but we usually see her for at least a few minutes a day. Lots of times, I don’t even know when she will be home after lacrosse practice.

And now, she is taking another step toward independence…and so are we! We are going to have lots of free time on our hands. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be fun. But even while we are having fun, I’m sure I will miss our little girl who’s not so little anymore. She is three inches taller than I am and ready to face the world. We just have to get ourselves ready to face the world in a different way…and really, that’s the scary part. I’m going to have to reinvent myself!

Yes, God prepares us by making their independence gradual…so gradual that we hardly notice till they’re ready to fly the coop! And now it’s almost here…

Once we get her to college, we plan to take a nice, relaxing vacation to “celebrate” our new status as empty nesters. Hopefully, we embrace the freedom…

The future is bright!

Let’s Get this Garden Started!

Let’s get this garden started!

Last summer, I decided to take the summer off from gardening. After the whole pandemic thing, I thought I needed a break from my backyard garden. By July, I knew I was wrong. No matter how much work it is, I love gardening in summer. It relaxes me. It gives me more purpose. It’s important. Last August, I wrote about how much I missed it. You can see that here.

So this year, I have already gotten started. Before my daughter and I left for her senior spring break trip last week, I got 72 seeds started in a Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit (order your Burpee kit from Amazon here), and last night and today, I have started 144 more. While I was in Jamaica (with 60 kids and their parents, yikes!), I didn’t even think about the seeds I had started till the third night of my four night trip. As trashy as it sounds, I had left the grow kit in the window of our dining room, so it would get lots of light. I called my husband on that third night and asked him to walk in there and see if anything was happening, and he sent me a picture of lots of emerging seedlings! Once I see that kind of progress, I get excited and want to start more seeds, so I have been busy since we got home.

Being in North Carolina makes gardening a little tricky. It’s hard to tell when winter is officially over. It might be 80 degrees for two weeks, and then we will get snow the first week of April…trust me, it has happened. So I’m never really sure about when to transfer my seedlings to the ground. I try to wait as long as possible for the last cold snap and for the plants to get a little bigger, because I learned a long time ago that birds, rabbits, and deer love seedlings. I think I will likely do the transplant thing in two weeks and put all kinds of things around the garden to deter the pests. It looks crazy out there when I get all my flash tape, pinwheels, and fake owls out, but they do seem to help deter the “pests” a little. I can’t sit outside like Elmer Fudd with a gun hunting “wabbits” all night.

Seriously, I’m feeling better already just because I know I’m going to have a garden. I never realized how much it bolsters my mood till I didn’t garden last year. This year I will have tomatoes (tomato sandwiches, anyone?), three varieties of cucumbers (salad, anyone?), two varieties of corn, and lots and lots of different varieties of sunflowers, including the beautiful Mexican Sunflowers…a big, bushy plant full of tiny orange blooms!

Maybe now is when I should tell you that my “garden” means my whole backyard. There’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to my “garden.” I just plant where I can, and sometimes, it drives my husband crazy. Our next-door neighbor seems to enjoy it…she helps me with it when I’m out of town, and I share the cucumbers and tomatoes with her. Plus, she loves bees and butterflies as much as I do, and one of the great things about all those flowers and cucumber blossoms is that they attract both.

Having a garden makes me go outside every morning and every evening to tend things. I like to water everything by hand twice a day. I know, I could set up the irrigation system, but there’s something special about watering by hand…and by hand, I mean with the hose. Occasionally, I mix plant food in a watering can, but most of the time, I water things with the hose. If I’m not watering the plants, I’m pruning the plants or harvesting. And I’m always on the lookout for pests like tomato grubs or cucumber worms/beetles. A tomato grub will make short order of an entire tomato plant in no time!

I’m a self-taught gardener, which means I have learned along the way, and I’m still learning! For example, a few years ago, I planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to learn how to pollinate them by hand! Later, I realized one corn plant had corn smut, a fungus that is considered a blight here in the US but is a culinary delicacy in Mexico! So you know what I did…I learned how to make tacos with it. In Mexico, they call it huitlacoche (pronounced weetluhkochay), and cooked right, it is delicious. I also learned that braconid wasps lay eggs in the backs of tomato grubs, so if you see a tomato grub with white, spiny-looking things (the wasp eggs) sticking out of a tomato grub’s back, leave it alone. It will die from a toxic substance in the eggs, and the eggs will hatch new wasps that will keep the cycle going! Growing flowers close to tomato plants helps attract the wasps in the first place.

Do I know everything about gardening? No way! I know very little compared to most, but I enjoy learning to new things, so it’s fun. Hopefully, I will learn even more this spring and summer!

Let’s get this garden started!

Am I the Only One?

Am I the only one?

A friend who also has a daughter who is a senior in high school posted earlier on Facebook that she is sad she isn’t signing a re-enrollment contract for her daughter at our private school. Several other moms chimed in that they are sad too.

But I didn’t.

Am I the only mom who is excited (and not sad at all) about her child’s high school graduation?

I am sure I will be sad later. I will most certainly miss our daughter, our only child. Our house will be really quiet without her comings and goings. I won’t get to watch late night movies or TV shows with her in her room, after she comes home from wherever she has been with friends. Yes, I will definitely miss her. My heart will break a little when I drop her off at college.

However, I’m not feeling that sadness right now.

What I’m feeling right now is excitement, hope, and happiness. To be frank, it borders on sheer elation, joy, glee, euphoria…call it what you will…it’s not sadness.

I’m excited for her to get to college and hopefully, have a great four-year experience she will remember for the rest of her life. I’m excited for her to make lifelong friends from lots of different places like I did. I’m excited for her to experience college sports from a student point of view. I’m excited for her to figure out what she wants to major in. Yes, her experience, 37 years after my own, will be different than mine, but some things will be similar. She’ll be attending my alma mater! Some of the same restaurants and bars are there. Lots of the same buildings are there. And the kids of some of my college friends are there! I’m excited for her to meet them or accidentally discover that I was friends with a new friend’s mom or dad. There is so much that lies ahead for her. Sure, we have to get everything moved into her dorm, but she will remember move-in day for the rest of her life! There is so much emotion tied to it that it gets locked into long-term memory. And she gets to move into a brand new dorm! She will be the first person to live in the room…with her roommate, of course.

I’m also excited for me and my husband! We won’t plan our lives completely by the school calendar anymore. Want to travel for a couple of weeks in October? We can do that! We won’t even have to check the calendar to see what days our daughter has off! We can go out to a late dinner on a weeknight, if we want, without worrying about getting our daughter up early for school the next morning. We’ll also have an excuse to go to more of my alma mater’s football games…our daughter will be there!

Hope is another emotion I am feeling. I’m hopeful about our daughter’s future. I’m hopeful she will take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of her at the university. I’m hopeful she will experience new things and travel to new places with new friends. So…much…hope!

And I’m feeling happiness. I love the school where she has been since transitional kindergarten. It’s a great independent school in Charlotte. We have made lots of great friends there. But it’s time. I’ll be happy to see it in my rearview mirror, because that means we are onward and upward…progress. To be honest, my daughter and I both have what’s known as “senioritis.” We both feel ready to move past senior year and start the next chapter, and I think that’s a good thing. We won’t end the school year wanting more. I’m happy to know we are closing this chapter soon. We will still see our friends…just not in a school setting.

So yes, this second semester of our daughter’s senior year is an emotional time. I just seem to be feeling different emotions than a lot of other mothers I know. I’m not sad. I’m not depressed. I’m sure I’ll experience some sadness later, but right now, I’m excited about the future…for me and for our daughter!

Am I the only one?

Facebook Memories: A Gift to Ourselves

Facebook Memories: A Gift to Ourselves.

I joined Facebook in 2009, because a friend from high school “invited” me to join. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I friended a few people, and then I realized I needed to get my mother to join, because it was an easy way for me to share photos of my then-five-yr-old daughter. I had no idea what an effect it would have on life, in general.

Here is where I am the first to admit that Facebook can be a giant “time suck,” as one friend calls it. I choose to call it a “time bandit,” because it steals my time, and when I look up, I’ve lost minutes or even hours of my life…to Facebook.

At the same time, it’s a good thing. We get to communicate with friends from lots of different stages of our lives. I’ve mentioned before that Facebook connected me with a friend who lived across the street from me when I was a toddler. It connected me with kindergarten friends I never dreamed remembered me after I moved away in second grade. It connected me with friends from the school I started attending in second grade and left after fourth grade. And it connected me with friends from high school and college, jobs I had over the years, and new friends I’ve made along the way. It’s a gift.

But there’s one part of Facebook that I truly consider a gift: Facebook Memories. I love Facebook Memories. I love that, every day, I can open my Facebook account, click on “memories,” and I can see things I’ve posted from years past. Today, for example, when I opened my account, the first memory I came across from one year ago was a photo of a space heater. I had posted it, telling my friend I had purchased new heaters to put at our feet while we visited in the garage. Yep, it was a sign of the times…the pandemic forced me to visit with friends in the open garage. The next memory, also from 2020, was a photo of a Christmas gumdrop tree, something nostalgic from my childhood that was clearly nostalgic for other people too, judging by the comments. The next post? One of my favorites of all time: a video from my daughter’s eighth grade basketball season…a girl on the team hit a buzzer beater to win the game 33-31 (yes, 33-31, because it was middle school girls’ basketball, after all) and a celebration ensued! As I continued to scroll, I came across a photo of me with a group of friends at the Good Friends Luncheon in Charlotte in 2016…a great cause that raises funds to help kids and adults in need. From 2013, there is a photo of me and my cousin before the ACC Championship game here in Charlotte. His team, the Florida State Seminoles won that year…great memory! Below that are a few pics from church basketball league in 2012…our daughter was nine. And then there are photos from 2010, when I took our daughter and some of her friends to a Christmas party at the country club. Lots of great memories! And every one of them made me smile. A gift.

Later this month, I will get to “re-live” Christmas memories…pictures of the Christmas tree after “Santa has left the building,” photos of the joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning, pictures of vacations during the holidays, photos of gatherings with friends, and so much more.

Every day, after I scroll through my Facebook memories, I want more! But I always have to wait for the next day…and often, another gift…another great memory…another smile.

For all its faults, Facebook, used correctly, is a gift. I will keep adding memories to it for as long as I can! And hopefully, along the way, I will have at least one smile a day.

We Survived the Elf

We survived the elf.

Our daughter is 17. When she was a little girl…not sure how old, maybe six or seven…”the elf” appeared at our house. You know…the elf who appears the day after Thanksgiving and stays till Santa takes him/her home with him on Christmas Eve? That elf.

“It will be fun,” my friends said, and they got elves too.

And honestly, it was fun.

For those who are not familiar with The Elf on the Shelf, I will get you up to speed. Parents of small children purchase the elf and pretend it magically appears the day after Thanksgiving…sent by Santa to watch the children and report back nightly to the North Pole. The kids are not allowed to touch the elf, because he will lose his magic. He “magically” flies back to the North Pole every night while the kids are asleep to report to Santa, and when he returns, he lands in a different spot in the house…sometimes doing something mischievous or bringing a small gift. But the big deal is that every morning, he will be somewhere different when the kids wake up, so they have to look for him in the house. At first, it’s a lot of fun trying to come up with new hiding places and new fun ideas…till you forget one night.

Imagine this: kid wakes up and walks downstairs to find the elf hasn’t moved from where he was the day before. The kid is horrified that his elf hasn’t moved and questions the parents about the authenticity of the story behind the elf. Parents have to think on their feet. I came up with this: Oh, honey, it was so foggy last night! The elf couldn’t go back to the North Pole in dense fog! Too dangerous! I’m sure he will go back tonight!

Fast forward to about 2am the next day when I woke up and realized I hadn’t moved the elf again. My pulse rate quickened, and I jumped out of bed to try to hurry up and quietly move the elf…yep, 2am. Don’t even ask how long it took me to go back to sleep.

These things happened all the time at our house. I would forget to move the damn elf and have to come up with another excuse. Here’s a list in case you need it for a future elf fail:

  • There’s the first excuse: the fog was too dense. (LIE)
  • It stormed during the night, but you (kid) didn’t hear it. (LIE)
  • Air traffic had planes backed up in the Charlotte area, so it was too dangerous for him to try to get out past all those planes. (LIE)
  • He must think this hiding place is extra special. (LIE)
  • I think he fell asleep, because he was so tired from flying back and forth the last few nights. (LIE)

Seriously, even little kids will question those lame excuses, but they got me through the situation.

But having to hide one elf wasn’t enough. People gave her elves as gifts! At first, she questioned how people could just give them as gifts…she thought they magically appeared, so I had to explain…after we put him on the shelf the first night, he will get his magic during the night and fly back and forth to the North Pole. But that meant I had more than one elf to move and hide creatively.

Oh, it got more complicated. Our young child started writing notes to her various elves with questions. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “What is your favorite food?” What is your favorite drink?” “Do you have a pet?” “Who is your best friend?” Oh, the questions went on and on, and she expected answers to every question the next morning. So, as a good mom, I had to sit down and come up with a different handwriting for each elf before I went to bed at night…and I had to remember which elf had which handwriting! Insanity…but yes, a small child would notice a discrepancy in the handwriting. Not kidding…

And to make things more complicated, she heard the elves brought gifts to some children, so of course, there had to be gifts. I went to Target and stocked up on every candy and cheap trinket I could find.

The elves had to be mischievous too. They spilled sugar or flour everywhere. They hid in candy bowls. They went ziplining between the banisters on the stair balcony. They wrote words with toothpaste. They even “came in like a wrecking ball.” I know there are some people who think I shouldn’t be proud of that one…but I’m proud of that one. One elf was sitting on an aluminum foil wrecking ball hung by yarn from our oven door…Miley Cyrus-style. And embarrassingly, our daughter knew exactly what it was. Don’t judge.

One year, at about Thanksgiving, before any elves had arrived for the season, my daughter came running into the kitchen, where I was cooking, with an elf in her hand! She had found it in my nightstand drawer and was confused. “Mommy? Look what I found in your drawer?” I’m good. I’m really good. Without batting an eye, I exclaimed, “He’s here! It’s magic! He knew you were going to look in that drawer tonight! He’s magic!” She bought it…hook, line, and sinker.

But the first year, when we had just one elf, heartbreak struck when we had our daughter’s bedroom painted. We bagged up all her “babies,” the stuffed animals she had collected over her lifetime and put them in the garage for “safe keeping” till the room was finished. No big deal…except, somehow, the bag got thrown away. The heartbreak was real when we discovered it. The tears! She was heartbroken, but I was too…so many memories. I had no idea how some of the “babies” would ever be replaced, but fortunately, I had photos of most of them. I got on eBay that night and started searching…and purchasing. I went anywhere and everywhere I could online to find replacements that night. I know…silly…but right then, it was important. And fortunately, I even had duplicates of a couple of special ones hidden away. So that night, after our daughter fell asleep, I got one of the duplicates from a trunk in the attic and propped it up with her elf for her to find the next morning.

When our daughter woke up and came downstairs the next morning…all puffy-eyed from crying so much before bed…she walked around looking for her elf. He was sitting on the sofa in the living room…with the duplicate rag doll that was identical to something that had been accidentally thrown away. When she found them, her face lit up…and she actually cried tears of joy! And so did I. Eventually, most of the babies were replaced by the elf over the course of the next couple of weeks. She really believed in her elf after that!

We were thankful we had the elf that first year, even though I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night numerous times when I realized I hadn’t moved the elf. His ability to make those “babies” reappear earned him a special place in my heart. And it earned him a special place in our daughter’s heart too.

He was so special, in fact, that after opening gifts and having family lunch on Christmas Day, our daughter just didn’t seem herself. I sat her down and asked if something was wrong. Was she disappointed with her Christmas gifts? And she broke down in tears! She explained to me that no, she wasn’t disappointed with her gifts; she was sad her elf had gone back with Santa!

And you know what I did. I broke every elf rule. I comforted her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and had a word with my husband, explaining to him that I needed him to go get the elf out of my nightstand drawer when I gave him the cue…and he needed to place it on the dining room table. Oh, I was thinking on the fly. I went back into the living room and told our daughter…so sweet…that since it was still Christmas Day, she could make a Christmas wish, and it might come true. Maybe she should make a wish that he would come back? I got a candle and told her to close her eyes and make a wish, then blow out the candle…close her eyes again and count to 20…slowly. While she did all that, my husband was quietly retrieving the elf and placing it in the dining room. We were breaking all the rules, but who wants to have a desperately unhappy child on Christmas Day?!?! I know…it could have been a valuable teaching moment…whatever. When she opened her eyes, I told her to see if her wish had come true. When she found that elf in the dining room, you’d have thought she had found Santa himself! We had more tears…of joy. And because it was after Christmas, we let her hold that damn elf for the rest of the day. I think he might have even slept in her bed that night. But I told her he could only stay for one more month, and he would likely stay in one place the whole time.

Whew! That was long ago. Go ahead…I get 30 lashes with a wet noodle for breaking every elf rule, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And really…was she harmed psychologically by any of it? No. Does she still believe in the elf at 17? No. In fact, a couple of years ago, a neighbor/friend posted a photo of her child’s elf that had accidentally melted when it was placed too close to a lamp. She put out a desperate plea to see if someone had an elf that looked like it. Guess who did?!?! We did! I asked my daughter if I could give it to them, and she was thrilled to get to save the day! I called my friend and said, “Come get it! It’s yours!” If you have an elf and hate it, just know you’ll get some good memories out of it. One day, you’ll look back on it fondly. And if you need some elf ideas, here are a few pics of some things we did back in the day…

Choose Joy

Choose joy.

In my collection of hoodies, I now have a tie-dye one that says “choose joy” across the front. I bought it for myself recently, because sometimes I need a reminder to choose joy.

I like to be happy, and most of the time, I choose to be happy. I’ve had sad things happen and my own struggles in life, just like everyone else, but I try to process that sadness and find joy again. Sometimes it take a while, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I do believe we can all make a conscious decision to be joyful. If we try to see a silver lining, we can usually find one.

And in my experience, choosing joy for yourself makes other people joyful. I find that, if I am happy, the people around me tend to become happier…joy is contagious. No doubt. Just like anger and bitterness are contagious. I know that, because sometimes I’m downright angry and bitter. Occasionally, something will get under my skin and stay there. I get angry or upset about something, and it seems I will never shake it. When that happens, I tend to spread that bad mood…till I realize what I’m doing…and then I try to turn it around. I choose joy.

There have been times in my life that I’ve stepped back and realized I’ve been “spitting venom,” and that’s not good. When I’ve realized it, whether someone pointed it out or I realized it myself, I’ve tried to walk it back and change my attitude. When I was a little girl, if I had a bad attitude, my parents would tell me, “You need to put a smile on your face…now.” Sounds silly, right? But here’s what usually happens when you put a smile on your face: you start feeling a little happier. It goes with the old “fake it till you make it” theory…start acting happier, and you will become happier. I learned that valuable lesson in my 20s, and it’s a lesson I’ve always remembered…and one I’ve tried to teach my teenage daughter. I’ve had to force myself to “fake it till I make it” a lot more through the COVID pandemic, because honestly, it’s downright depressing. But if we look around and find joy somewhere, it makes it a little easier.

About a month into the pandemic isolation, I was looking out the window onto my patio when I realized the trees behind our patio were becoming greener…sprouting tiny green leaves. Because we were all searching for things to do during that lockdown, I spent some of my time taking photos of the trees as we moved into spring. Sounds boring, right? I agree, but somehow it was fun at the time…and it brought me joy! I also got my garden started way earlier than usual…finding joy where I could…watching seedlings grow into flowers and vegetables. I chose joy that way.

Did I still have times of sadness? You bet. The pandemic shutdowns and isolation have been hard on me. But I refused to give in. Sure, occasionally, I had a breakdown here or there…or I made a big deal out of something that wasn’t a big deal. But when I realized it, I adjusted my attitude and chose joy.

That “choose joy” hoodie I mentioned earlier? Well, I found it on a website called Elly and Grace. I got one of those Facebook notifications that a college friend “liked” the Facebook page for the company, so I checked it out, and I was glad I did. Elly and Grace is a small company in Missouri whose mission is “to provide the softest, highest quality Christian apparel, designed to uplift, inspire and point others to Jesus.” Indeed, they do! The hoodie I purchased is the softest ever, and it certainly promotes an inspirational message! They have other items that feature other great messages and Bible verses. You can see what they offer here. I will definitely be shopping with them again very soon, and I know I will purchase some Christmas gifts from them too. I love to support small businesses…and this one seems special.

So thank you, Facebook, for leading me to Elly and Grace, and thank you to Elly and Grace for reminding me to “choose joy.” I am trying to make that conscious choice every single day.

Choose joy.

70s Saturdays and Hostess Cupcakes

70s Saturdays and Hostess Cupcakes.

Earlier, I had to run to Walgreens to pick up one thing…some bottled water. Of course, like so many other people, I can’t walk out of Walgreen’s with just one thing. I have to “browse” the aisles. By the time I checked out, my cart contained hand sanitizer, cheap lipstick, Halloween candy I promptly hid when I got home, and Hostess Cupcakes. Yes, Hostess Cupcakes…the ones that come two to a pack. The creme-filled chocolate ones that have the white swirls across the top. The ones that I loved as a kid in the 1970s.

When I was a little girl, Daddy took us to Murphy’s store on Highway 31 in Brewton on Saturday mornings after he gave us our $5 allowance. It was our opportunity to get whatever we wanted, and back then, $5 would buy a lot of treats. Murphy’s was a little locally-owned convenience store. We always referred to it as “Murphy’s,” except Saturdays, when we referred to it as “the candy store.” Mr. and Mrs. Murphy actually ran it themselves. I’m sure they laughed when they saw us coming, because they knew we were going straight for the candy. By the time I left the store, I usually had an Icee or a Grape Fanta and a little brown bag full of different treats. My personal favorites? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I remember when the price increased from 15 cents to 20 cents), Pixy Stix, Marathon Bar, Grape Now & Laters, Spree Candy, M&Ms, Candy Cigarettes (it was the 70s, after all), and yes, those glorious Hostess Cupcakes. I thought those swirls across the top were beautiful. I guess I always had homemade birthday cakes, so those Hostess swirls looked like some special handiwork. Here’s a secret, though: I rarely ate the cupcakes. I usually just ate the frosting off the top…and that swirl? I saved that till the end.

So, after I got home from Walgreen’s and ate those Hostess cupcakes, I posted on my personal Facebook page about them, and the reaction was great! So many of my friends remembered those cupcakes from childhood. But the great thing was the memories they shared about their own experiences. One friend commented that her dad would take her to the deli on Saturdays, and while he picked out lunch stuff, the kids could get treats…including Tastykakes…a Mid-Atlantic treat. Others could remember the mom-and-pop shops where they got their weekend treats, and one friend frequented the 7-11 with her dad, buying comic books and candy.

One of my favorite comments was simply, “Nyolator.” It was a comment from a kindergarten friend in Brewton. I’m guessing not just anyone would understand it, but I knew exactly what it meant immediately. In South Alabama, when I was a kid, I didn’t call Now&Later candies by their real name. I called them “Nyolators,” and I now know I wasn’t the only one! We weren’t being funny. Since I never bothered to read the package, I just pronounced them the way I heard it,”Nyolator.” I guess that’s the way my kindergarten friend heard it too! So if someone had asked me what candy I liked at the time, I likely would have answered, “Grape Nyolators.” Later, when I bothered to read the package, I was amused to learn I had been calling them by the wrong name my whole life…I was probably a preteen by the time I realized it, but dang!

So now, I’m thinking those Hostess Cupcakes aren’t just cupcakes. They’re symbols of my childhood…memories of going to Murphy’s store with my daddy. Pixy Stix can have the same effect for me. I loved Pixy Stix then, and I still love them now. Again, grape Pixy Stix are my preferred flavor. I don’t know why I love artificial grape flavoring, but I do.

Grape sodas, which taste nothing like real grapes, also make me think of visiting my Granddaddy. I’ve talked with my cousin, Patti, in recent years about how Granddaddy would give us a quarter, and we would walk down to the little store down the street from his house. I don’t know what the store was called, but I know I could always get a grape soda or an RC Cola there.

And you know why all those items…the candy, the cupcakes, the sodas…remind us of our childhood? Because they represent happy times. We tend to lock things into our longterm memory if they are attached to an emotion, and I guess that emotion, for me, on a Saturday morning, with $5 to spend at a mom-and-pop convenience store…well, that emotion was pure joy! No doubt!

I was big on making my little brown bag candy stash last a while. I could drag out eating some M&Ms by peeling them. I never got Peanut M&Ms. Back then, I only got original milk chocolate ones. And I actually peeled them. Sounds crazy right? I would bite each one just lightly enough to crack the outer shell, and then I would carefully peel off the shell, eating it little bit by little bit. And that’s when there were still red M&Ms with cancer-causing coloring, and there were two different brown colors of M&M…one was tan. Remember that? Long before blue M&Ms. I remember hearing the slogan for M&Ms many times, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

And while I was peeling my M&Ms and hoarding my candy/cupcake stash, I was likely playing records on my record player…maybe Ricky Nelson singing Garden Party, which takes me back every time. That and Otis Redding singing Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. But I’m not even going to get into how music takes me back…that’s for another day.

For now, I’m going to sneak back into the kitchen and eat some of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from the bag of Halloween candy I purchased at Walgreen’s. I hid it from everyone else in my family, but I know exactly where it is!

October 2 Has Meaning for Me

October 2 has meaning for me.

Different days have different meanings. To a lot of people, October 2 means nothing different than any other day. To me, it has meaning.

October 2 is the anniversary of a day my life changed forever…the day my Daddy died in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about it before. Today is the 14th anniversary of his passing. While it’s hard to believe it has been 14 years, it also feels like I haven’t seen his face or heard his laugh in forever.

For years, I could only remember him sick. Pancreatic cancer was a cruel disease for him. Frankly, it was cruel for me and the rest of the family too. I had never felt such emotional pain. I thought I would lose my mind with grief. Yes, the disease was terrible, but through those months from diagnosis to his passing, we managed to have some good times. We laughed…a lot. We cried a lot too. We spent a lot of time together. My husband and I moved our little family down to the Alabama Gulf Coast for months, to be closer to Mother and Daddy. We were lucky we had a condo on the bay near their house. Our daughter was about to turn three. It wasn’t easy to uproot the family. We had good support in Charlotte…great friends we had made over the course of our marriage. They called to check on us, and they mailed little treats to our daughter. I called them and cried regularly. We didn’t have a lot of support in Alabama, but I enrolled our daughter in a church preschool…they very graciously took her when they didn’t have to. And I did everything I could to keep my little family happy while trying to help my mother help my daddy. Daddy was so sweet throughout his illness. It was heartbreaking watching him get sicker and sicker…and that was all I could remember for a long time.

But now, I can remember him not sick. I can remember his laugh. I can remember his stories and his wordplay. I can remember watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS with him. I can remember watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN and listening to Harry Caray with him. We loved the early days of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…when Regis hosted. He was into all the same “useless knowledge” I’m into. I remember what a jokester he was. I remember how he carried me to the car when I had a stomach bug at 17…just picked me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to the car to take me to the doctor. I can remember how big his hands looked when I was a little girl. When he was dying, I kept looking at his hands…trying to etch them in my memory. I don’t know why that was so important, but for some reason it was. I think his hands represented his strength to me…his physical strength, but also his emotional strength. He was rock solid to us. He carried the burden of supporting our family, and he didn’t have a financial safety net in the form of parents who could help him in a financial emergency. He gave us that safety net, though.

My brother and I laughed just recently talking about how Daddy always made sure we were taken care of. He provided for us…everything we needed and most of what we wanted…throughout life. And here’s the funny thing…he’s still providing for us, in a way. Just recently, almost three years after my mother died, we discovered they had a life insurance policy he had set up many years ago. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s passing, I deposited the check from that policy into a bank account, and afterward, I sat in the car and thought, “Wow. Fourteen years to the day after he died, and he’s still giving to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mother provided lots for us too…in a different way, but today is about remembering Daddy. I used to dread October 2 every year, because it meant heartache to me, but now I smile. I’m certainly not happy he’s gone, but when October 2 rolls around, I spend the day thinking about Daddy. I’ll look at the moon tonight and remember how he used to call me in Charlotte from his home in Alabama and tell me to go outside and look at the moon when it was particularly spectacular.

Just this weekend, when I was in a store with a friend, someone heard me call her “Miss Merry Sunshine” and asked if that was her name. I explained that I just call my friend that because she’s perpetually happy. And even that made me think of Daddy. When he was sick, I would take our toddler daughter over to visit, and he would sing Good Morning, Merry Sunshine any time she walked into the room. She loved it…and frankly, I did too. In one of his final days, I walked into the room with her, and he had a lot of morphine in his system…his speech wasn’t clear. His smile was clear, but his speech was garbled. He was “singing” but it wasn’t clear. I took that almost-three-yr-old little girl outside, and said, “I wonder what Big Ken was trying to say to you?” She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Good morning, Merry Sunshine!” So yes, I thought of him this past weekend when the woman in the store thought my friend’s name was Merry Sunshine.

Now that little toddler girl is almost 17. In memory of Daddy, before she goes out with her friends tonight, I’ll take her hand and press a crisp $20 bill into it. He used to do that…give me “walking around money,” or WAM, as we started calling it when I was in college.

His passing was difficult. That’s not even a good word for it. It hit me hard. But it also taught me some coping skills…his final lesson to me.

Lots of good memories of Daddy. Thanks, October 2, for making me sit back and think about him. I still miss him, but I have wonderful memories of him.

Embracing My Inner Ouiser

Embracing my inner Ouiser.

I saw Steel Magnolias soon after it premiered in 1989, and once I could digest some of the questionable southern accents (Tom Skerritt and Darryl Hannah, I’m looking at you), I loved the movie. As a southerner, I saw characters I could totally identify with. Growing up in Alabama, I knew people like those characters. I knew folks like M’Lynn, Truvy, Clairee, Drum, Shelby, Annelle, and yes, I knew people like Ouiser.

On Facebook, I often see these silly quizzes titled Which Steel Magnolia Are You? Yes, I take the bait and jump right into the questions with gusto. Going into them, I’ve often thought of myself as the very practical M’Lynn. Sometimes, I might be a cross between Claire and Truvy. But after all these months of COVID? I’m becoming Ouiser. And honestly, I’m embracing my inner Ouiser.

Normally, I consider myself a “glass half full” person. I try to see the positive side of things, and I look for silver linings. I’ve never considered myself a “glass half empty” girl. But now, since I’m embracing my inner Ouiser, I might have to become a “throw the glass against the wall” kind of person. Damn glass…who cares if it’s half full or half empty? This is so out of character for me, but I just need to wallow in it right now.

If you’ve seen the film, you know Ouiser is the grouchy, sarcastic member of the friend group. She is “eccentric.” And honestly, she brings a lot of flavor to the movie. Shirley MacLaine, even as a non-southerner, brought life to a character all good southerners have known at some point in life…the grumpy neighbor lady…the bitter teacher…the friend’s mom who locked them out of the house during the day all summer…the old lady with the constant scowl on her face…the old woman who screams at neighborhood kids for being too noisy. We know them.

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, but I have it on my list of things to watch again in the next month or so. I’ll squeeze it in somewhere between old episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, Family Affair, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Partridge Family. Oh, and don’t forget That Girl. You can see Steel Magnolias on Amazon Prime for a small fee here. Yes, I’m digging deep to find some joy…anything that takes me back to a happier time, because life in the days of COVID? Well, a lot of the joy has been sucked out of daily life. I’m just telling it like it is…just like Ouiser would.

So to channel my inner Ouiser, I looked up some of her best quotes from the movie, and here they are…for your reading pleasure:

I’m not crazy; I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!

I’m pleasant, damn it! I saw Drum Eatenton this morning at the Piggly Wiggly, and I smiled at the son of a bitch ‘fore I could help myself.

Ugh. Leave me alone.

Don’t try to get on my good side. I no longer have one.

The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.

He is a boil on the butt of humanity.

A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I’m not as sweet as I used to be.

This is it. I’ve found it. I’m in Hell.

Honestly, Ouiser doesn’t have a lot of the best quotes in the movie (that award goes to Truvy), but her character is a doozy. She says some of the things we would all like to say sometimes, but our manners keep us from saying them. She gives that meaningful scowl…the one that says “eat s**t and die.” It’s not likely I will start walking around telling people to “leave me alone,” but right now, I want to. I want to stand up and scream at the world to just stop! Just stop! Stop trying to make it look like COVID isn’t ruining a lot of our fun! Stop trying to make it look like everything is “normal.” It’s not. And yes, before you come at me telling me “we live in the best country in the world,” I will tell you that yes, I know that. I know I am fortunate to have a loving family and a roof over my head. But damn it, I’m sick and freaking tired of COVID. I know people who have died. I know people who have been terribly ill. And by golly, it’s OK for me to have a bad attitude for a while…just because.

I know my friends and family expect more from me, but frankly, I just want to kick COVID’s ass for messing up the good thing we had going on.

But after all this, I’m sure I will pull myself together. I will not be shouting “bah, humbug” at people or telling them to “leave me alone.” I’m sure that in a few days, I will embrace my inner M’Lynn or Clairee, once again, and move on. But unless you want to encounter Ouiser, you might want to tread lightly till the weekend.

In the meantime, if you want to join the Ouiser Fan Club, call me.